How Sex Drive Changes as You Age

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Age and sex drive are closely related. While it tends to drop off with age, it's not a straight downward slope. It climbs to a peak, then tapers off.

You've probably heard that female sex drive peaks much later than male sex drive. Research shows that's true. Female libido tends to increase as fertility declines. Then it dips after menopause.

Your personal sexual appetite is determined primarily by brain function, hormones, and beliefs and attitudes about sex. It can change because of your mental state, stress levels, overall health, and long-term hormonal changes. It can change based on your mental state, stress levels, and hormones.

This article looks at how your libido is expected to change as you get older and how you can increase your sex drive at any age.

A senior couple holds each other in bed.

LWA-Dann Tardif / Getty Images

Age and Sex Drive

The rise and fall of sex drive with age is different for different sexes.

Female hormones, hormonal birth control, pregnancy, and menopause all play a role in libido. This causes a lot of fluctuation.

For men, primary sex-drive influences include testosterone levels and overall health. While testosterone is thought of as a male hormone, women have it, too.

20s

Regardless of biological sex, testosterone levels are high in your 20s. Sex drive generally is, as well.

In males, testosterone levels peak at 18. They start a slow decline after that. But they're generally high enough through this decade to support a healthy libido.

Female fertility starts to decline in the late 20s. That appears to cause an uptick in sexual desire. Experts don't fully understand why. It may be the body's way of encouraging reproduction before it's too late.

30s

Testosterone continues to decline through the 30s. In males, some studies suggest the decline may speed up to about 1% per year until about age 40. The drop in libido may become more noticeable.

For many females, this is when sex drive peaks. Sexual fantasies may increase. You may find yourself having more frequent sex and having it earlier in your relationships.

Again, this may be a function of the biological clock—your body trying to get you to have a baby while you still can.

Men Get There First

According to a British study, males experience a dip in libido between ages 35 and 44. Women have a similar dip later—between 55 and 64.

40s

In males, the drop in libido during this decade is typically more apparent and leads to dissatisfaction, according to studies.

Their erections become less rigid and they start desiring sex less often. Erectile dysfunction starts becoming more prevalent.

For females, perimenopause (the lead-up to menopause) typically starts somewhere in the 40s. That means declines in estrogen (female hormone) levels.

Lower estrogen can mean vaginal dryness, which can lead to painful intercourse. Testosterone tends to decline, too. This can all lead to a lower sex drive.

A Broad Spectrum

The human libido exists on a broad spectrum. Some people have an extraordinarily high sex drive compared to the average. Others, such as those who identify as asexual, have little to no desire for sexual activity.

50s

In the 50s, both males and females report declines in sexual interest and in how much sex they have. Physical changes include:

  • Lower-quality erections
  • Reduced ejaculate volume
  • Reduced vaginal lubrication
  • Less orgasmic pleasure
  • Lower overall sexual functioning

One study found that, in males, deteriorating health was a major cause of reduced sexual activity. In females, the loss of a spouse was a more important reason.

Even so, researchers note that sexual desire, activity, and function remained strong during this decade of life.

60s+

Sexual dysfunction, chronic illness, and the death of a partner all become more common after age 60. And they all contribute to a continued decline in sexual drive and activity.

However, that doesn't mean you should expect to stop having sex as you get older. Research suggests that people in their 60s and beyond report active, fulfilling sex lives.

A Dutch study published in 2017 surveyed rates of sexual activity in older community-dwelling people. Nearly half of those with partners reported sexual activity in the past six months. Rates were far lower in those without partners.

Sexually Active in the Past 6 Months
With Partners Without Partners
Men 49.5% 13.7%
Women  40.4%  1.3% 
Source: Freak-Poli, et al.

Another study reported that 40% of women over 60 had low sex drive. Still, the women said sex was an important part of their lives.

A 2020 study reported several factors that contribute to a declining libido after age 60:

  • Postmenopausal vaginal symptoms
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Fatigue
  • Pain
  • Stress
  • Body image concerns

While some consequences of aging are unavoidable, many of them can be medically managed.

Recap

Libido tends to be highest in the 20s. For females, it increases as fertility wanes, then decreases after menopause. For males, it peaks in the 20s and then gradually tapers off.

How to Increase Sex Drive

While sex drive naturally changes over time, that doesn't mean you have to live with a lower libido. You can do several things to boost it.

First, talk to your healthcare provider to see if it's a natural change or diagnosable sexual dysfunction. Depending on what they find, they may prescribe medication or help you find ways to correct it.

If it is just an age-related drop, you may have success with lifestyle changes.

Increase Exercise and Physical Fitness

Exercise, activity levels, weight, and fitness all are related to libido. The good news is that even small increases in physical activity can boost sex drive, according to some research.

Studies have also linked obesity and inactivity with sexual dysfunction. One study concluded that sexual behavior was directly linked to body fat percentage.

Males with a higher body mass index (BMI) were 30% more likely to have erectile dysfunction. About 40% of them had problems with desire and 50% had performance problems.

In women, heart health and cardiovascular fitness predicted arousal.

Exercise may:

  • Increase your energy and stamina
  • Help you lose weight
  • Boost heart health
  • Improve mood and mental health
  • Help manage chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes
  • Lessen chronic pain

All of these effects may help boost your sex drive.

But while it's better to be active than inactive, you may harm your libido with too much exercise. Some research suggests regular, intense endurance training may decrease male sex drive.

Eat Libido-Enhancing Foods

Some foods may help increase your sex drive. Many of them do this by improving blood circulation. That's important for erections and also for female arousal.

Others may directly increase your libido or improve your mood by changing brain chemistry. Libido-friendly foods include:

  • Raw oysters
  • Avocados
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Watermelon
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Garlic, onions, shallots, and leeks

Be sure you discuss any dietary changes with your healthcare provider.

Avoid Libido-Lowering Foods

Some foods can reduce your sex drive and function. Several of them lower testosterone levels, while others impair circulation.

Libido-lowering foods include:

  • Alcohol
  • Saturated fats (e.g., fatty beef, pork, butter, cheese)
  • Trans fat (e.g., fried or battered food, shortening, margarine, some baked goods)
  • Mint and menthol
  • Licorice root (e.g., teas, herbal remedies, but NOT licorice candies as they seldom contain the root)
  • Soy and soy-based products

A side benefit of avoiding trans fat and saturated fat is that your overall health may improve.

Manage Stress

Stress changes a lot about how your body functions. Chronic stress increases levels of a hormone called cortisol, which can suppress sex hormones and lower libido.

It can also negatively affect your mood and mental state. That can also harm your sex drive by making it hard for you to get in the mood.

You can lower your stress levels by:

  • Eliminating stressors when possible
  • Learning relaxation techniques
  • Exercising
  • Meditating and using mindfulness-based techniques
  • Doing yoga, tai chi, or qi gong

When your body stops being chronically stressed, your hormone levels should return to normal. If you need help with stress relief, talk to your healthcare provider.

Improve Sleep Quality

Some research has linked poor sleep with low sex drive. Improving your sleep quality may help.

The first step is to take a look at your sleep hygiene—your habits surrounding bedtime and sleep. Some tips for better sleep include:

  • Have a relaxing bedtime routine.
  • Use your bed only for sleep and sex.
  • Make your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool.
  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends and during vacation.
  • Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep a night.
  • Only go to bed when you're tired so you don't lie there awake.
  • If you don't fall asleep in 20 minutes, get up and find a quiet activity you can do without much light. (Don't use electronics!)
  • Limit evening screen use and exposure to bright lights.
  • Avoid caffeine after noon.
  • Avoid alcohol before bed.

Better sleep may improve your health in many ways besides your libido, so it pays to create better habits.

If your sleep quality doesn't improve with these steps, ask your healthcare provider whether you may have a sleep disorder. Getting it diagnosed and treated can make a big difference in how well you sleep.

Reconnect With Your Partner

Research confirms what you may already know—feeling emotionally connected with your partner increases feelings of desire and arousal. Women tend to need more of an emotional connection than men.

To boost your desire for each other, relationship experts recommend:

  • Turn off the devices and talk more.
  • Really listen when they come to you with a problem.
  • Touch each other in loving ways more often.
  • Pay attention when your partner tries to get your attention.
  • Take a quiz on love languages so you know how to express your affection for each other.

If you're not able to reconnect with your partner, you may want to consider couples counseling.

Transgender Sex Drive

Research suggests that hormone therapy and reassignment surgery can lower the sex drive of transgender people. However, it appears to be a short-term change. Some research has found that trans women appeared to end up with a higher sex drive over time than they had before treatment. Trans men, overall, returned to their previous levels of desire.

Summary

Male sex drive peaks in the 20s and then gradually declines with age. Female sex drive grows as the fertile years pass, then declines with menopause.

You can increase your libido with moderate exercise, dietary changes, stress management, getting better sleep, and staying emotionally connected to your partner.

A Word From Verywell

Sex is an important part of the human experience. You may feel grief or distress in the face of a declining libido.

It's important to remember, though, that much more than age impacts your sex drive. If you address problems as they come up and work at staying sexually active, sex can be part of your life even in your later years.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why does sex drive fluctuate?

    Sex drive fluctuates because it's influenced by many biological and emotional factors that all have ups and downs. Hormone levels, stress levels, age, illness, sleep quality, and a bad mood all play into your libido and arousal.

  • Is there such thing as a “normal” sex drive?

    No, there's no universal "normal" when it comes to sex drive. Libido exists on a spectrum, so what's normal for an individual can vary widely. If you've noticed a change in your libido, especially a dramatic one, bring it up with your healthcare provider.

  • How should you work with a partner who has a higher or lower sex drive than you?

    Mismatched libidos can be hard to deal with, but you can get to a good place.

    • First, understand that neither of you is abnormal. Sex drive varies greatly from one person to the next and there's no "normal."
    • Identify what gets the partner with lower libido interested and increase those activities.
    • Find alternative ways to satisfy the partner with the higher libido.
    • See if stress management, moderate exercise, and dietary approaches can help increase the lower libido.
    • Find ways to connect emotionally, as that may increase desire.

    If you've seen a change in sex drive in either of you, talk to a healthcare provider. There could be a medical reason.

Originally written by
Mark Stibich, PhD

Mark Stibich, PhD, FIDSA, is a behavior change expert with experience helping individuals make lasting lifestyle improvements.

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